I called my last story, a quickie submitted to Daily Science Fiction, story 4.5 Anything less than 3,000 words I’m calling a partial story. So, this is another half story – bringing me up to five. This is something a bit different – my first completed draft of a comic book. I went through an phase of actively collecting comics starting in Spring of 2000, when Drew introduced me to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’d previously been really into the X-Men in junior high but fell out of it when I spent 6 months in Romania and fell behind all the books. I still don’t know how the Age of Apocalypse ended.
Comics opened something up for me. My first creative fires in years. I discovered Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore. I went to Journey Comics every Saturday to bullshit with Paul and peruse books, a ritual that included smoking and caffeinating and reading at the Sullivan Taylor Coffee House. Hanging out there lead to me to become friends with Boomer, to hanging out sometimes at the Chandler Boulevard House. To meeting Dave King and Kari and Derek and Jen. It also lead to my first abortive attempt at writing.
I bought the books Writing for Comics by Alan Moore and The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. Damn, I should go buy them again. Okay, I just went and did that. I really shouldn’t have done that. I cannot fucking be spending money right now. They were both cheap and used though. I just cut up my debit card. I’m only spending cash from now on. Having a debit card is kind of dangerous, when you think about it. None of those little purchases seem like a lot, and before you know it you’re broke and living at the Wooden Indian on Mishawaka. Anyway, where was I? Also, I ordered a Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics on inter-library loan, which is totes free.
At the time, I decided I was going to become a famous comic book writer. I got the books, I corresponded with comic writers, I started to formulate scripts. As near as I can remember them:
- A story about a shadow earth on the other side of the sun where dinosaurs evolved into sentient species because no asteroid ever hit it. Some people can travel back and forth between the two worlds. It was terrible.
- A 24-page story about a character named Melvin the Mayfly, which intended to do as a 24 Hour Comic. The story was that Melvin would learn of some plot to destroy the world but, being a Mayfly, only has 24 hours to save it. Also, because he has no mouth, he can’t tell anyone. I never made it.
- A story called “Holding Unit,” a group of misfit space marines called upon to do a job they’re woefully unsuited for. I actually liked this story a lot, and had a lengthy correspondence with Trey Wickwire, who at the time was formulating a military scifi series called Mamluk, and who appears to have brought it to life, though I can’t find it online anywhere. We were actually actively working ideas and I was on the verge of starting the script when I decided instead to move across the world to meet a girl I met online. For a while that worked out: I got married. Then it didn’t: I got divorced. So it goes, so it goes.
And that was about as far as I got. I tried to find some collaborators for the awful dinosaur Earth story but there were no takers. Then I tried to write Holding Unit but gave up before I started. Now, I’ve gotten a draft together – my first. And, I have a collaborator! My old friend Curtis Bisbee, who I know from days of harder living at WIU, is going to do all the artwork, and we’re thinking of releasing this in four page installments as a webcomic and DIY zine publishing the thing every so often as we go along. Curt has already drawn his first treatment of Turtle. I think this story is a good match for him. He likes to draw oddball/slightly disturbing characters, which is what this comic is all about. Example:
LOOK AT THIS FUCKING THING. He drew fucking spider-bat-pig. And look how happy spider-bat-pig is to be spider-bat-pig! He has no idea he is an unearthly monstrosity. I am absolutely writing this character into the script somehow.
Think of this as Cerebus meets The Goon while listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois. Turtle and Leech are a very slow duo of adventurers traversing the shattered hellscape of post-apocalyptic Central Illinois fighting unspeakable evil at .2 miles per hour. I’ve already got the second issue outlined, and I’ll be posting some sketches as Curt sends them to me. Hooray!
So, after that super long fucking introduction: Here is story 5/10 on my journey to becoming a writer.
Turtle and Leech: ISSUE 1
Page 1: Three equal panels, one atop the other.
Panel 1: In a forest clearing surrounded by dead, black trees whose spidery branches look like cracks pounded into the slate gray sky, lie half a dozen bodies in various stages of dismemberment, a broken wagon piled high with sacks and barrels, and a turtle shell, in the center of panel. A sword sticks out of one of the bodies. Others are missing limbs.
The view is from above, and the shell, being small, will not be immediately recognizable. Among the debris scattered about, it might just be another piece of junk.
On the trees behind, nothing grows, nor is there any plant life on the ground. Mist snakes and dances among the trees. Whisps of smoke rise from the embers of a camp fire.
Text: Upper left, single box: MORNING, SOMEWHERE BAD.
Panel 2: Zoom in, the same drawing, and the shell remains in the center of the panel. We can see more detail of the shell and the things around him. A body, face down, clutches an antique-style double-barrel hammerlock shotgun.
We can the handle of a machete sticking up into the air behind the shell.
Text: Upper left, single box: THE MURKY DAWNLIGHT ILLUMINATES NEW DEAD THINGS.
Panel 3: Side shot of the shell and and upright severed head opposite — shell to the right and head to the left, facing each other. The shell is about 1.5 times the size of the head. The head sits in the embers of the camp fire, eyes and mouth open in an expression of shock. Perhaps a little smoke rises from what is left of the hair — the head has been in these embers for a while. We can see that the carapace is battle scarred. Several deep, vicious grooves are visible , signs of old violence.
Text: One box, long and rectangular, across the top of the panel like a banner. The second is on the bottom, right. In the middle, there is a single word bubble, coming from the front of the turtle’s shell.
First text box: THE LOCALS CALL THIS PLACE, SIMPLY, “THE DEAD FOREST.” THEY DO NOT GO INSIDE. THEY SAY ANY CREATURE OR SOUL IN THE FOREST WHEN THE SUN SETS WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE IT RISE, FOR THE FOREST WILL CLAIM THEM.
Page 2: Four equal panels in a windowpane.
Panel 1: A closeup of the font of the shell. The top and lower lips of the shell’s front frame the sleeping face of TURTLE. A light colored scar runs diagonally across his face, cutting across one eye. At either end of the scar, there is a deep wedge cut out of the carapace of the shell — the intended effect being that someone swung an axe into Turtle’s head at some point, and he only survived by pulling the old turtle trick of pulling his head down. In this case, however, it didn’t get him out unscathed.
His eyes are shut tight, but even so he seems to wear a permanent scowl.
TEXT: Single box: SOME WILL SAY THAT DEMONS APPEAR AT NIGHT, AND THESE ARE SOUL HARVESTERS.
Panel 2: Closeup shot of the severed head. The bottom half of the face is blackened from proximity to the coals. The top half his normal enough, except for the loss of most hair. What is left sending tendrils of smoke up into the air. One eye is open much wider than the other, giving the face a sort of o.0 look of disbelief, as if, prior to death, the man, not so much afraid, simply couldn’t believe what was happening to him. The mouth hangs open, and the bottom lip is more or less burned away, giving him the appearance of a horrible underbite. The gums are drawn back, making the teeth appear elongated, more like fangs.
Text: Single box: OTHERS, THAT THE TREES THEMSELVES COME TO LIFE TO SNAP AND TEAR HUMAN LIMBS.
Panel 3: Same as panel 1, only TURTLE’S right eye is now open. He scowls.
Text: SIX MEN DIED IN THE FOREST LAST NIGHT. THEY MET NEITHER DEMON NOR TREE SPIRIT.
Panel 4: Turtle’s face again. His eyes are open.
Page 3: Full page splash
TURTLE has leapt into the air. He is upright and a foot off the ground with the machete, held in both hands (which are not human hands, but ordinary turtle feet) pulled back over his head. The severed head is in the foreground to the right, and our view is from behind it. TURTLE is staring down at the head with with a calm face and same dark, angry eyes.
Text: Upper left, single box. THEY MET SOMETHING WORSE.
Page 4: Three panel page. One 2/3 panel. Two smaller panels below.
Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE from his right, standing, holding the machete outward. It is buried in the severed head. TURTLE is on the left and the head is on the right. When TURTLE is standing, the top of the head is at the TURTLE’S neckline. TURTLE is looking down onto the head.
Text: Three word bubbles, spaced for effect.
TURTLE: I have already killed this one.
TURTLE: I really need to stop swinging a machete into the first thing I see when I wake up.
TURTLE: Where am I again?
Panel 2: Show from slightly below, showing TURTLE looking up and to his right.
Panel 3: The tops of the trees. Dead, black trees snaking and splintering up into a dead grey sky. Nothing alive can be seen.
Text: Blue text box, with a different font. TURTLE’S inner monologue. Box: Oh, yes.
Page 5: Full page splash:
Panel 1: Panel one is a map, with the edges of the panel the torn and curled edges of the brown and coffee-stained paper. The idea is a map that’s been the glove compartment of a working truck for many years. A road winds down, top right to bottom left, where there is a wooded area, and, hand scrawled in ink, THE DEAD FOREST. The road is similarly labelled, THE DEAD ROAD. As is a creek that crosses it, top to bottom. At the far right is hand-written, TO SPRINGFIELD and an arrow pointing right. Make it a map of central Illinois, but with the names crossed off and horrible things written in their place. Have fun with it. It should have some cigarette burns on it, some ancient blood splatters.
The text in TURTLE’S inner monologue occur diagonally from top left to bottom right:
TURTLE: Uhn. The Dead Forest.
TURTLE: It’s always so. “The Dead Forrest” or, “The Dead Marshes” or, “The Swamp of Despair.”
TURTLE: … or, “Murder Mountain.” Fucking loved that one.
Page 6: Windowpane
TURTLE is standing with his left side to the head, jerking out the machete. His head is down in exertion, and the machete is still imbedded in the head.
Panel 2: Shot from above, with TURTLE in the center, his right arm holding the machete out, away from him, away from the head. The head has toppled over and gloppy stuff spills out of it. Bodies surround him. TURTLE’S head is still down.
Panel 3: TURTLE from the front left, placing the machete behind his shoulder. The machete will have no visible means of attachment, just as his ‘hands’ do not have opposable thumbs. When he is walking on all four legs, the machete will attach itself to his side, and poke out behind him.
Panel 4. Shot from the front, with turtle now on all fours, facing us, but looking to his left.
Page 7: Four panel windowpane.
Panel 1: TURTLE is in the same position as page 4, panel five, but now we see him from his right side.
Panel 2: Closeup, head and shoulders shot of TURTLE, looking to his right now. His eyes are a little scowlier.
Panel 3: Shot from the front. Turtle on the left, the face down body of the man holding the shotgun visible from just below the shoulders and exploding upward out of his head is LEECH. TURTLE is surprised, reels back a little from the exuberance of LEECH’s entrance.
LEECH: OH HAI!1 (LEECH only speaks in lolcat and his word bubbles are jagged, like explosions)
Panel 4: Closeup of TURTLE’s head, eyes squinched tight, as LEECH lands on his head with a squishy *plop.*
Page 8: Two atop, three panel
Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE’s head, as LEECH looks out of the panel with big watery Bambi eyes. His body, about as long as TURTLE’S HEAD, is formless black and aside from his eyes the only discernible feature is a soft pink tongue perpetually stuck out. LEECH needs to be cartoon-y and adorable. TURTLE is looking up, trying to see him.
TURTLE: I wish you’d stop sleeping in those. You smell like old brains.
LEECH: I can has brains?
TURTLE: No, you’ll spoil your dinner.
Panel 2: Shot from TURTLE’s front right. His machete is at his side, horizontal to the ground. The head is visible in the background, split open. TURTLE is walking forward. LEECH is leaping onto TURTLE’s shell from his head.
TURTLE: Get off my head, we’re leaving.
Panel 3: Shot of a man, sitting up against a barrel, with a vicious wound in his forehead, as if he was shot from behind with a very large caliber bullet, such as the shotgun on the ground. Beside him is a burlap sack, tied at the top. The sack is on its side. A word bubble is coming out of the sack.
Page 9: Three panels, stacked.
Panel 1. Shot looking over TURTLE’S shell from behind his head. He’s looking back over it toward the sound. Leech is in the foreground, same big dough eyes and tongue sticking out, looking in the same direction.
Panel 2: Shot from the side, TURTLE has his head lowered down near the opening, and has grasped in his mouth one of the ends of the rope tied around the top of the sack.
Panel 3: From the font. TURTLE’s face and rope leading into his mouth. He’s squinting with exertion, pulling on the rope. LEECH is peeking around the side of his head, dumb happy look on his face.
Page 10: Two panel. Panel one is very large, panel two smaller and overset.
Panel 1: Shot from above. TURTLE is facing the sack, rope still in his mouth. LEECH is on his back. A girl, arms and legs bound, with a gag in her mouth, has tumbled out of the sack onto her side. She is wearing only a small t-shirt and panties. Bruises and dirt stain her legs. She is facing TURTLE and LEECH.
Panel 2. Closeup of the little girl. Her hands are drawn up to her chest. Her eyes are wide in surprise.
Page 11: Four Panels, stacked.
Panel 1: Side shot of TURTLE, LEECH on his head with a very excited look on his face, and DAISY facing opposite. DAISY left, TURTLE right. No dialogue.
Panel 2: DAISY from front – right.
Daisy: Um, hello, Mr. Turtle. And little thing on Mr. Turtle’s head.
LEECH (Word bubble from off-frame): HALLO MISS HOOMAN PERSON!
Panel 3: TURTLE from front – left. LEECH perched on his head.
LEECH: CAN I HAS…
TURTLE: No. And get off my head. Now, miss. A bag in the middle of a bunch of dead cannibals in the middle of the dead forest is no place for a little girl to be.
Or a big girl, really.
Anyone at all. Cannibals too.
Panel 4: Perspective from just over a jumble of body parts. DAISY, TURTLE and LEECH in background. DAISY is looking at the bodies. TURTLE is looking over his shoulder toward us in the same direction.
DAISY: Did you make all their heads fall of like that?
TURTLE: We’ve been tracking them since Decatur. Not hard. Just follow the bones and the Firepits. They’ve been eating their way across Central Illinois.
We caught up with them last night.
Page 12: 4 panel, irregular.
Panel 1: Foreground is the silhouette of a gnarled tree. A skull is lodged in the fork. Background, our trio, still conversing.
TURTLE: What’s your name?
TURTLE: Where did they take you from?
DAISY: New Berlin. It’s west.
Panel 2: Turtle, facing Daisy, from front, left.
TURTLE: Are you hurt?
DAISY: No, I don’t think so. They didn’t start eating me yet or nothing.
LEECH: OM NOM NOM!
TURTLE: Very well then, Daisy. We will take you home.
Panel 3: TURTLE from front, walking away. DAISY behind.
TURTLE: And no time to waste. We need to get some road under us if we’re going to be out of the Dead Forest by sundown.
DAISY: It’s like, barely morning.
TURTLE: I’m not fast. Besides, do you want to hang out with all the rolly heads?
Panel 4: Zoomed out of the forest. Very stylized and black. On the horizon the sun is rising. Word bubbles with long snaky tails rise up for the blackness of the woods.
DAISY: What’s your little black slimy friend’s name?
TURTLE: His name is Leech.
LEECH: HAI SACK LADY!1
DAISY: He’s cute.
TURTLE: He likes to eat brains.
LEECH: OM NOM NOM NOM!1
Page 13: Windowpane.
Panel 1: “And so our intrepid trio set off across a narrative interlude to show the passage of time through the Dead Forest.”
Side shot of the three. DAISY is skipping in the lead. TURTLE is plodding along with a morose look on his face behind. LEECH is sleeping on TURTLE’s shell.
Panel 2: “They saw many horrible things.”
Shot from behind. The three are looking at a pyramid of human skulls. LEECH is on TURTLE’s head again.
Turtle: “Get off.”
Panel 3: “Sometimes they did something about it.”
Again from the rear. TURTLE’s back is to us. He is holding his machete and katana high in the air against a serpent, coiled high into the air and baring huge fangs. It’s about three times his height. In the foreground, DAISY cowers behind a tree stump, holding LEECH to her chest, who looks equally terrified.
Panel 4: “Sometimes, maybeee not….”
All three running away, toward us, from an entire herd of zombies.
Page 14: Windowpane.
All four panels here are looking down the same forest road. All three are walking toward us, getting closer each time. DAISY mostly looks down at her feet.
Panel 1: Narrative: “Sometimes there were no terrible things for a while, so they just talked.”
DAISY: You think those men were gonna eat me?
TURTLE: That doesn’t matter now.
DAISY: Thanks for making all their heads fall off like that.
TURTLE: Any time.
DAISY: So what’s your story, Mr. Turtle? Where are you going?
TURTLE: Wherever there is evil.
DAISY: That’s kinda everywhere.
DAISY: Where you from?
TURTLE: Far, far to the East. We have traveled years to arrive here.
DAISY: How far is far, far?
LEECH: 47 MILES! MUCH FAR! SO JOURNEY!
DAISY: Oh, right. Turtle speeds.
DAISY: This is gonna take a while.
PAGE 15 – 16: Two page spread:
NOTE: MAYBE DO A ROUGH, QUICK ATTEMPT AT DRAWING THIS LAYOUT. IT MIGHT BE TOO CROWDED. ALAN MOORE USES A LOT OF 9 PANEL LAYOUTS ON A SINGLE PAGE, BUT HE’S WEIRD. LET ME KNOW IF YOU WANT ME TO REWRITE THIS INTO A THREE PAGE SPREAD.
Panel 1:The top panel is just a little bit of cuteness. On the far left is TURTLE and LEECH, plodding along. And on the far right DAISY is sitting, bored, on a tree stump with her head resting on her hand, waiting for them to catch up. She’s embarking on a road trip to reunite her with her family and she has to move at a turtle’s pace.
DAISY: You’re slow.
Panel 2: Side shot, walking along. All three facing to the left. TURTLE is telling a story. LEECH is sleeping DAISY’S hands. She’s holding him up in front of her.
TURTLE: “…and so the demon lizard spawn of Joliet descended upon the..”
Panel 3: An abandoned gas station. A mad-max-looking lunatic runs out of an abandoned gas station yelling some pseudo Cthulic nonsense.
Lunatic: “BAGGAH SHA! GRAZH BAGGAH SHA!”
This is the first time we see TURTLE actually fight. He calmly watches the guy running at them wielding a nail-studded baseball bat and calmly cleaves his head in two when he gets there.
Panel 4: Close up of TURTLE’S face. He has gone quite grim.
Panel 5: TURTLE calmly dodges the lunatic’s first swipe.
Panel 6: TURTLE equally calmly beheads the lunatic.
Panel 7: The trio staring down at the lunatic’s body.
DAISY: What was he yelling about, Mr. Turtle?
TURTLE: It’s the Black Speech of Gaggoroth
LEECH: MUCH GAGGOROTH! SO TRIBULATION! VERY TENTACLES!*
Panel 8: DAISY is making arm gestures.
DAISY: Sometimes I pretend my arms are tentacles. But they don’t move as good as tentacles, ‘cause they’re really arms.
(close up of tattoos on the lunatics’s face)
TURTLE: Those are the markings of the West Toledo Bone Cults. I thought they were extinct.
Footnote: *Gaggoroth the Absolutely Tentacled emerged from the inky depths of Lake Erie during the Ascension of LeBron. Now the locals call it The Sea of Sighs, on account of all the ghosts.
PAGE 17: Four panel windowpane.
Panel 1: TURTLE walking toward us, DAISY in the background. She’s rolling her eyes.
TURTLE: Come on, then.
DAISY: Oh, you go on ahead. I’ll take a nap here and catch up later, slowpoke.
TURTLE: Newsflash: I’m a turtle.
Panel 2: DAISY turns her head and sees something.
DAISY: Yeah, like the slowest turtle ev…OHMYGOD!!!
Panel 3: DAISY is spring toward us. TURTLE in background, watching. LEECH is looking on as well.
TURTLE: (thought bubble) Huh?
LEECH: OM NOM?
Panel 4: The backs of TURTLE and LEECH’s heads, looking at the abandoned gas station. We see DAISY with her back to us, throwing junk to the side.
DAISY: Guys! Guys! I found the answer to our problems!
TURTLE: The Eye of Kothar-wa-Khasis? *
DAISY: Wha – no! I found…
Footnote: Thought lost for many years, the Eye of Kothar-wa-Khasis was found in a mausoleum in Davenport. It’s discovery lead to the Third Tribulation of the Quad Cities.
Page 18: Full page splash!
Full body shot of DAISY, who has pulled a wagon out of a junk pile. Old-fashioned Radio Flyer. Light emits from it. DAISY is all excitement and grin.
DAISY: A WAGON!!!
Turtle: (From off – left.) Oh, hell no.
Narration box: To be continued…
End of 1st issue. I could have another page devoted to an “About the creators” section. I also want to create a fake letters to the editor section, written by people who actually live in this hellscape. We have to take up two more pages, though. So one side (Page 19) can be the about/letters section and the other side just a standalone art piece of the three. Maybe being pulled in the wagon? Or maybe some initial sketches?